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Five Travel Apps You Should Be Using (and One Website, Too)

Every day someone launches a new or improved feature for travelers on the go. Here are a few that are new, new to me, or upgraded.

Salk International has completely overhauled its landmark “Salk International Airport Transit Guide,” both in coverage and format. It now covers getting to/from 460 major and not-so-major airports around the world, and it’s now available as an app for iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Currently, you can download it from the iTunes store for a “sale” price of $4.99, which covers the current version plus updates for an unspecified period. The downsides are (1) it requires iOS 4.0 or later, (2) it’s not yet available for Android or BlackBerry, (3) it’s not yet available in web-based format for those of us who carry laptops or netbooks, and (4) for dinosaurs, it’s no longer available—and will not be available—in print form.

I’ve used and written about this invaluable guide for almost all of the three decades of its existence, and I can only echo the rave notices posted on various travel review sites. It’s especially helpful when you’re about to visit a foreign city for the first time and want to find the best ways into town and how to avoid the various local scams. Founder Ron Salk says he hopes to issue Android and BlackBerry formats sometime next year.

Room 77 has added a price search function to its unique (as far as I know) individual-room locator capability. Since its inception, Room 77 has featured hotel floor maps showing the location of individual rooms, and its “room concierge” function lets you identify and request a room in a location you prefer—high floor, view, quiet, whatever you want. The new price-comparison function is extremely fast; it searches among the big online agencies that usually have the best available rates and usually matches the lowest price it finds on other sites. One thing that stands out when you use Room 77 is how often the big online agency prices are identical or within a dollar of each other. Except for the “opaque” sites, it is becoming increasingly obvious that no individual site can really beat its competitors by a significant amount.

These days, smartphone apps are “where it’s happening” in online travel resources. Just about any airline, hotel chain, rental car company, or online agency you can name—and many you can’t name—pitch their smartphone apps along with their websites. I’m not going to recommend any of the individual giants; you know the ones you prefer, and these days they almost all have apps. Instead, I’ll note a few not-so-well-known ones that you might find helpful:

  • I’m a bit late with this one, but Priceline recently added a “tonight-only deals” feature to its “Hotel Negotiator” app for iPad. It currently covers about 20 cities, with more coming.
  • Hipmunk, the site that added a schedule-based “agony” factor to airfare searches, has adapted the concept in an app. Trip displays show fares and timeline graphs of arrival and departure times, total flight times, and layover times at connection points.
  • Viator, the outfit that sells local sightseeing tours in many major destinations around the world, launched its app recently. Viator can often beat the prices charged by a cruise line or a package tour operator, and it also has some options that you might not otherwise see.
  • RailEurope has a new app that lets you check schedules, book trips, and file itineraries.

As far as I can tell, just about all available smartphone travel apps are available in Apple format for iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Most of those are available from iTunes, and most supplier and agency apps are free. Many are also being ported to the Android and BlackBerry systems— almost surely later, if not already.

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Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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